Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill — Report (1st Day)
Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Labour)
I do so for two reasons. First, if one reads Mr Bryant's speech, one sees that he made it clear that this was a matter for the Lords to form a view on. Secondly, the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Rooker does not provide that the proposal would automatically fail, which was what was voted on in the Commons. My noble friend has come up with what seems a sensible conclusion to make the referendum an advisory one, which, as noble Lords have heard from the quotes from the Constitutional Committee, is the norm in our country. My noble friend has found a way through in relation to that.
This is important. We were unsure what our position should be precisely on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. We had a different position in relation to a drop-dead referendum, where, if you did not get a 40 per cent turnout, that would be the end of it. Instead, my noble friend has found a way through that.
I have listened with interest and respect to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, about the Northern Ireland position and to what my noble friend Lord Reid said. My view is that we are dealing with a voting system for the whole of the United Kingdom. Once one accepts the proposition that there needs to be something special in order to justify this change, there has to be support throughout the whole of the United Kingdom, which obviously includes Northern Ireland. Although I listened with respect, I do not think that the reason given means that the simple solution that my noble friend Lord Rooker has produced is inadequate.
The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, said that there would be a differential turnout in relation to this referendum because there will be local, Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly elections in some parts of the country but not in others. If you have a UK-wide threshold for turnout, that assists in making sure that the differential turnout does not affect the result.
The Opposition support the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. We believe that what he has said will promote acceptance of AV, if that is the change, which is good for the country. If there is a majority among those who vote, but the 40 per cent threshold is not reached, it will then be open to Parliament to conclude that that is sufficient, but the matter would have to come back to Parliament. There would have to be a piece of primary legislation; it would not depend just on a statutory instrument. My noble friend's proposal does not rule out-